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Mystics Open Camp Awash in New Faces

By Kathy Orton
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, April 24, 2005; Page E10

As the Washington Mystics open training camp today, there will be -- as usual -- plenty of new faces on hand.

Michael Adams is out as coach, and Richie Adubato is in. Judy Holland-Burton is out as general manager, and Linda Hargrove is in. Chamique Holdsclaw is out as the team's superstar, and Alana Beard is in.

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Forward Murriel Page, the only constant in the chaotic franchise, has been through this so many times it doesn't even faze her.

"Like I've said over and over again, I don't really concentrate on the changes that are going on around me," said Page, the only person who's lasted through the team's seven seasons. "I pretty much concentrate on myself, make sure when the time comes that I'm ready to do whatever it takes."

With so many comings and goings, it is hard to predict what kind of season is in store for the Mystics.

Beard and Chasity Melvin are the top returning scorers after the departure of five-time all-star Holdsclaw to Los Angeles and the retirement of Stacey Dales-Schuman. Beard, the only Mystic to start every game last season, emerged as one of the WNBA's top players in her rookie season, averaging 13.1 points and a team-high 2.7 assists. Melvin came on strong in the latter part of last year, averaging 8.6 points and 3.9 rebounds.

The Mystics, who were one of the youngest teams in the league last season, added two veterans -- DeLisha Milton-Jones, acquired in the Holdsclaw trade -- and free agent signee Charlotte Smith-Taylor. Milton-Jones, a 30-year-old forward, helped Los Angeles win two WNBA titles during her six years with the Sparks. She averaged 9.8 points and 4.7 rebounds last season. Smith-Taylor, a 31-year-old forward, had the best season of her WNBA career last year, averaging 8.2 points and 4.1 rebounds. Washington also signed free agent Edwina Brown, a 5-foot-9 guard who has played four years in the WNBA.

Devoid of a talented point guard throughout most of their franchise history, the Mystics finally enhanced that position by drafting LSU's Temeka Johnson with their first pick, sixth overall. Johnson led the Lady Tigers to back-to-back Final Fours.

All this shuffling has led to a roster filled with interchangeable players.

"The team that we've put together and built over the last couple months is really versatile," Hargrove said. "We have a lot of players that are alike. They're long. They're athletic. They're defensive-minded. They're players that can play multiple positions."

After foundering for most of last season, the Mystics hit their stride late in the year. They won five of their last six games to finish 17-17 and make the playoffs for the third time in franchise history.

Beard expects the momentum from that strong finish to carry over into this year.

"We still have the core of our players coming back," she said. "We still have the players we ended the season with. Those are the same players that grew as a team, and we had great chemistry. Those players will help the other players that are new come along very fast."

Washington opens its training camp at MCI Center then moves to Gallaudet University later in the week. Several players are finishing their commitments overseas and will not be on hand when camp opens. Milton-Jones and Helen Luz are in Spain; Melvin is in Israel; and Iciss Tillis, acquired in a draft-day trade with Detroit, is in Poland. Aiysha Smith won't be in town until Monday. She is with her fiance, LSU defensive end Marcus Spears, who was drafted by the Dallas Cowboys, 20th overall, in yesterday's NFL draft.

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